Through the senses: Promise of Spring

Happy weekend!

I’m enjoying this weekend a lot! I really needed it. Last weekend of course was exciting but after a trip I need some rest as well. It’s really nice to be able to stay and home and feel, through the senses…

Today I feel excited and joyful, my senses are telling about spring: the sound of the rain in the morning (snow is so quiet, lovely, but silent), the sun shining a little bit brighter this afternoon, the buds in the plants outside, the indoor plants bend towards the window, claiming their natural right to thrive, the raise beds visible again, the cat finally taking a walk outside, the mint smell of an awakening plant, and the memory of the sound of the rain this morning…

I perceive a lot through my eyes, maybe many of us do. Today it felt so different, I think the rain made the big difference.  Perceiving through another sense… Winter in Happy Valley, in the North East of the US, can be long and harsh. Sometimes, around December there is a whole month in which we might not see the sun. Days are short and by the time I leave work, no matter how much I try to work efficiently, it’s already dark. Snow is quiet beautiful, waking up after a snowing night is very pretty, peaceful, quiet, soothing, very silent… As my friend Jennifer would say, ideally for hibernation and good books. So true!

photoThis winter we had very low temperatures, in the single digits in Fahrenheit (crazy cold -20 C!), and a couple of snow storms with accumulation of several inches. It’s really getting time for Spring… As we slowly transition out of hibernation, still enjoying the many interesting books that I want to read, it feels really nice to experience the awakening of other senses… I can’t wait to smell or savor later the Spring and Summer, but also want to stay present, enjoying each moment. So now I enjoy the new sounds, the rain, soon maybe some birds singing, the awakening of senses and the promise of Spring.

Have a beautiful weekend!

Yoga and Tapas in DC

Hi there! I hope you are having a beautiful weekend.

I spent the last couple of days visiting Washington DC, what a beautiful city! I had to go there for a short visit to the Embassy and it was nice to get to spend some time in the city. Washington is one of my favorite cities, I really like the vibe there, the people, the buildings, the Mall, the museums, the new buildings, and the restaurants!

I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition going on at the Smithsonian: Yoga, the art of transformation (http://asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/yoga.asp). I found it really interesting. It amazes me to know that this practice that we think as ‘physical’ nowadays started so long ago as a way to seek enlightenment. Of course I enjoy the physical practice but I still value the spiritual aspects. Yoga has given me a way to find peace when I feel stressed out or worried. The exhibition features several sculptures and paintings. I was profoundly touched by one painting depicting two yoginis, an older woman teaching or talking to a younger woman. It was so beautiful, I wish I could have gotten a postcard from that (no photography allowed and there weren’t prints or postcards to buy ;-( I guess the emotion in that moment was the gratitude to all my mentors, teachers, and researcher colleagues, that have been so influential in my life and have supported me to move forward and do well with the hope to help others. I remembered my PhD adviser, my postdoc adviser, other very inspiring mentors and colleagues, and my yoga teachers! I also had the feeling that I can be the older yogini, or mentor and I saw myself teaching students in the lab, in classes, mentoring students. That’s one very rewarding aspect of my work in science, get to mentor and teach students. Standing in front of this painting I saw myself as a seeker and as a giver… of knowledge, advice, and insight. For a moment it felt ‘transcendental’. I’m most of the time in the seeker mode, but when I get approached by students and colleagues seeking advice I feel humbly blessed, I love the opportunity to help others. Science has two amazing opportunities to give: in one side the experiments can give answers and we hope those answers are helpful for our society and the well being of people; in the other side, by sharing our experience and inspiring students and colleagues we increase our possibility to make a difference.

After the exhibition we headed to a tapas restaurant. We always like to hit a tapas place in our trips and this time we visited a new one in the DC area, Barcelona (http://www.barcelonawinebar.com/washingtondcres.htm). It was superb, ALL, the food, the service, the ambiance, the music, everything. We’ll be back! We had one of our favorite dishes, “gambas al ajillo” (garlic shrimp), it was brought to our table hot on a cast iron pan, just perfect!

Image

“Gambas al ajillo” at Barcelona, Washington DC.

 

We had other few “Mediterranean diet” dishes so to keep our mitochondria happy ; -)

Next month we’ll have a Spanish friend visiting. In the drive back home we were talking about plans for his visit. It seems we will have a tapas dinner… It should be fun! I’ll keep you posted. In the meanwhile have an awesome weekend and if you are in the US Northeast area, stay warm ; -)

Lessons from the mat: Succeeding with New Year’s resolutions

I began the New Year with a very special event: yoga with my friend and teacher Kristen. What a delight! One of my New Year’s resolution is to deepen my yoga practice. In another blog I will share more about my journey and how yoga has been so beneficial for me. But, back to my New Year’s yoga class here is the lesson.

As you might know there is a little bit more in yoga than the mere physical exercise (a.k.a. asanas), actually a lot more! The traditional view includes 8 limbs and the physical practice is only one of them. The rest are other practices such as meditation, breathing techniques and philosophy of living. That’s why many yoga teachers refer as ‘yoga on the mat’ and ‘yoga off the mat’. In principle the practice of yoga on the mat has lessons that one can take off the mat into everyday life. Another characteristic aspect of yoga is the cultivation of a level of awareness while in the practice, in other words, trying to be present, here and now on the mat, as supposed to let the wild mind ramble around to-do lists, unfinished work, plans for the weekend, etc.

Ok, back to January 1st, yoga class: during the class our teacher instructed us to be aware and “catch” some of those thoughts that run in our head constantly, some of them not necessarily empowering, while we were in class, on the mat.  It’s very interesting what you can ‘hear’ when you are struggling to hold a posture in a New Year’s yoga class after a long break! Later, after the class and off the mat, she made us reflect on our New Year resolutions and to detect those feelings or thoughts that might get in our way to keep the resolutions. She reminded us to think about what we “caught” on the mat. Guess what! Yes, she was right!!! Same thing! The thoughts I was finding as excuses to hold a posture, or to try to go deeper in another, were the same thoughts I identified as limiting beliefs that can get in my way: the same ones that were coming while on the mat! That I’m behind many others, that I’m not there yet, that I’m not as good as, or that others have already done what I want to do (namely personal projects), agh! This is to certain extend true, and so what?! For example, this is only my third entry blog. Surely others have much more experience blogging, and I can get much better, but if I never start or don’t show up I will never put my words out there and I’ll miss the opportunity to connect with you guys. And same applies to many other areas.

photo

The take home message for me was: it’s very helpful to recognize the thoughts in our heads, those inner critic voices that may get in our way to achieve dreams or keep resolutions. Once we have ‘heard’ them we are much better positioned to deal with them. Remember, thought comes before the action, so if we don’t want a thought interfering with my desired actions we have the option to change that thought for another, maybe more aligned with the outcome we want, more supportive, more empowering. So, I’ve been working on re-authoring my thoughts, for example “I’m becoming stronger, wiser and richer in every experience”, that way when I’m in a yoga posture feeling like quitting I call my empowering thought and let it support me in my action of surrendering to it.

Could you relate to this? Do you recognize dis-empowering thoughts that might prevent you from doing your desired action? How could you re-author them? I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment. Back to my resolutions and mitochondria, I will be posting once a week, I will continue to show up and next time we’ll talk a little bit more about mitochondria ; -)

Happy empowering thoughts!

Fernanda

A close look to mitochondria

Tags

Hi there!

I hope everything is going well and things are running smooth as we get into the New Year.

As promised today I’m writing about mitochondria, one of my favorite topics.

I remember when I was interviewing for my postdoc. I had trained in molecular virology and wanted to continue that road, but my mentor shared his interest on mitochondrial biology and explained me his new project on mitochondrial transcription. Suddenly I realized that had navigated grad school without thinking a lot about mitochondria and probably the last time I thought about them was in school (well, maybe not, I’ve thought about them when exercising but that’s another story). Have you ever thought about your mitochondria?

We all probably remember the cell from our science classes in high school. We might remember that at the center of the stage we have the nucleus, which main functions are encoding genetic information and ensure that information is expressed and maintained as well as inherited by daughter cells after cellular division. We may also remember that surrounding the nucleus and in the cell soup there are other ‘organelles’ with various functions, including mitochondria. Here is a typical representation of the cell anatomy, typically what we might have learned in high school. Mitochondria (plural, singular mitochondrion) are represented in yellow.Image

Figure 1: Schematic of an animal cell. Source Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually I became fascinated with these power factories and since I took the postdoctoral position to study mitochondrial transcription I had the opportunity to think and learn a lot more about mitochondria. Of course I learned that we don’t have only 1 or 2 per cell but many more!!! Look at this picture now…

Image

Figure 2: HeLa cells stained with DAPI (blue) and Mitotracker (red). Personal collection.

In blue we can see the nucleus, and in red (stained with Mitotracker, a marker specific for mitochondria) we can see how mitochondria really look, there are thousands per cell, connected forming tubules, like a network; there are plenty surrounding the nucleus, but they extend to the edges of the cell. Isn’t that amazing!? And gorgeous!!!

As you can see these organelles essential for life are quite remarkable. Mitochondria main (but not only) role is to produce 90 % of the energy we require for every biochemical reaction that keeps us functioning, our heart beating, our muscles and nerves moving us around, our digestive system capturing the nutrients we ingest with food (when we actually ingest real food, more to come ;-), and so on. We require energy and we are ‘engineered’ and have evolved to produce it.

Many human chronic diseases have a connection with mitochondrial dysfunction, including muscular dystrophies, heart disease, metabolic diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and aging. This connection has led the leaders in the field of mitochondrial medicine to propose these diseases are actually energetic diseases (Wallace, J Clin Invest. 2013;123(4):1405–1412. doi:10.1172/JCI61398). The idea is that environmental factors (such as energy resources, energy demands and toxins) and genetic variations influence the function of mitochondria and can lead to mitochondrial damage and progressive bioenergetics decline which in turn affects cell homeostasis and ultimately organ function. This is a fascinating field that promise to keep us exited for years to come!!!

So this week I invite to start thinking about this. Are you taking good care of yourself and your mitochondria? I hope so!

In the meanwhile, I hope you are enjoying the beginning of the year, working on the New Year’s resolutions and feeling energized!

Have a great week,

Fernanda

Hello Mitochondriac Friends!

Tags

, , , , ,

And Happy New Year!!! I hope you all started an amazing and exciting 2014. It’s very exciting in this side. This year I’m embarking in something I’ve been incubating for a while, and made it a New Year’s resolution: blogging. The time has come where I feel I’ve accumulated knowledge and experiences that I would love to share and get connected with people with similar interests. New Year is a great time to start this kind of projects, I have the energy and want to create a space for us to think and share about this topic. In addition I’ll be blogging about other passions that are intimately related to mitochondrial function, such as health and exercise.

I am a biochemist in deep love with Mitochondria, the power houses of the cell. As a researcher at the Pennsylvania State University, I study how mitochondria express their genome. Did you know that mitochondria have their own genome? Yes, and its expression is crucial for these organelles that produce most of the energy that feeds all the cellular functions and therefore, organs and systems in the body, ultimately our health. You bet, mind your mitochondria! This blog is about that, sharing the science that amazes us about the many crucial functions of mitochondria and how we can take better care of ourselves while minding our mitochondria.

I hope down the road we all come to appreciate better the importance of mitochondria and become really “mitochondriacs”! I would love for us to feel healthy, strong, energized and happy, so we can pursue our wildest dreams, with the same energy as we start the New Year ; -) Stay tuned, connected and energized!

Happy New Year and Resolutions ; -)

Fernanda